This weekend, I’m mourning the loss of a neighbor I never met. I may have shared an elevator with her at some point, but I don’t believe we ever spoke.
I live in a 12 story building in New York. There are 12 apartments on each floor. Boxes within a box. There are four tenants named J. Kim who live in the row of apartments – e.g. 108, 308, 708, 1008. Each of these apartments has the same floor plan. None of the Kims are related.
The doormen and the building owners are perhaps the only people who know everyone.
A few weeks ago, I walked in the lobby and Julian said, “I want to ask you something. Come here.”
Julian is originally from India, has a fascination for American politics, regularly polls tenants on politics and is a consummate predictor of weather.
“Isn’t your first name–the name you don’t use–Eleanor?”
“Do you know Hazel? The writer who recently moved back again from France?”
“She just wrote this book, Franklin and Eleanor, about Eleanor Roosevelt. She brought it to me. I am going to read it. You should, too.”
A life-long admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. I made a mental note to read it…after I got to the book I have still yet to buy–and read–for my book club. I’d leave Ms. Rowley a note after I read it, I thought. And maybe see if she wants to have coffee.
On Friday, Julian stopped me again.
“What do I wear to a funeral in a Catholic Church on a Saturday? Should I wear a suit and tie?”
“Who died?,” I said.
“Hazel, the writer,” he said. “She had a stroke, heart trouble. She was young – only 59.”
I’ve spent the weekend learning about my former neighbor–online. Born in London, Hazel Rowley was also raised and educated in Australia, where she studied and later taught literary studies at a university. She was a writer’s writer, having written biographies about writers Christina Stead, Richard Wright, and another providing an in-depth glimpse into the relationship of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte. The Age reports that she “once described writing a biography as like having a love affair”:
You know how it is when you are in love? You smile indulgently at their faults, you are fascinated by every minor detail about them. You cannot take your mind off them, you become so totally obsessed. You live with them day and night for years.
Apparently, her love was paying off: Franklin & Eleanor was named one of the best 10 books for 2010 by NPR’s Fresh Air. The book was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in October; she died in the middle of her book tour. The New York Times has yet to mention her passing, but here’s a brief obit from the International Business Times. And a piece on her book from NPR. What a career!
Do I even need to tell you what my next read will be? Thank you, Hazel (and Julian).